While roughing-out a flat plan for the Henry Poole book, we had to decide on fifty of the great customers from our Hall of Fame to feature as full profiles. It isn’t widely known that Poole’s tailored for ladies and our customer list is quite dazzling. We made riding habits for courtesans, empresses, actresses and aristocrats. The ledgers record orders from Queen Victoria, her daughter the Empress Frederick of Prussia, Empress Sisi of Austria, Empress Dagmar of Russia and Empress Eugenie of the French.
Such fun that Poole’s also tailored skin-tight riding habits for entertaining ladies such as Lillie Langtry, prima donna assoluta Adelina Patti and Catherine ‘Skittles’ Walters: the last great Victorian courtesan. Skittles earned her name because she was discovered working in a bowling alley in Mayfair. She became the mistress of the 9th Duke of Devonshire when he was still Marquess of Harrington. Even when Harty and she parted company, he paid Skittles an annual stipend that the Cavendish family continued to honour after his death.
A personal favourite of mine is the Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia. Ella, as she was known to the Imperial Family, was the elder sister of unpopular Russian Tsarina Alexandra. Ella’s husband Sergei was assassinated by an anarchist’s bomb after which the Grand Duchess entered holy orders. Ella warned her sister about the pernicious influence of ‘mad monk’ Rasputin and the last words she spoke to the Tsarina were ‘remember the fate of Louis XVI’.
Ella’s words proved prophetic. Following Rasputin’s murder and the anarchy of the Russian Revolution, Tsar Nicholas II, his Tsarina and their children were assassinated in 1918. A day later, Ella was one of a number of Romanovs to be taken from house arrest in the Urals, thrown down a mine shaft and killed by a shower of dynamite.
Ella’s murder was one of the worst atrocities committed by the Bolsheviks and she was canonised by the church. A statue of her stands above the west door of Westminster Abbey wearing her nun’s habit. Anyway, on a lighter note I spent the afternoon with my trotters up in Bloomsbury Towers watching Hollywood musicals on Channel 5. I say watching but my finger strayed towards the remote when I saw the first half of the double bill was Annie Get Your Gun.
Annie was a property that MGM bought for Judy Garland. Sadly, Judy was coming back from another suicide attempt and was still in thrall to the drugs first prescribed by the studio when she was making The Wizard of Oz aged sixteen. To add insult to injury, Louis B. Meyer employed Busby ‘drunken sadist’ Berkeley to direct and he was Judy’s nemesis.
Footage and stills from costume tests show Judy whacked-out and deeply dissatisfied with the role and her appearance. She was fired and replaced by Betty Hutton who, needless to say, ate the scenery and caterwauled her way through the score. Fortunately Channel 5 redeemed itself by showing the Doris Day classic Calamity Jane as the main event.
Doris Day is sublime as Calamity Jane. She sings like a dream and nails every showstopper including The Windy City, The Black Hills of Dakota and Secret Love. There is talk of a Sapphic sub plot as seen in the A Woman’s Touch number between Katie and Calam. Well, stranger things have happened but I don’t read Doris as a dyke. She’s a lover not a fighter.
So what else is new on the Rialto? Well, as the New Year approaches it is time to take stock and count the lessons leaned in 2015. Lesson number one is don’t spend silly money on fancy face creams. Just invest in an industrial sized tub of Nivea Soft cream and be sure to steam and swim every morning. Lesson number two is never to start watching an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race at 10pm because it will only end in bleary eyes at noon the next day.
I won’t even begin about making a cup of Lady Grey rather than nipping to Waitrose for another bottle of Prosecco or sucking a peppermint rather than buying another pack of Vogue Menthol. I will make a concerted effort to ring friends when they first pop into my mind rather than worrying about bothering people. People like to be bothered if you love them and they love you. As for family, I think the best policy is to be kinder and more understanding but that’s easier said than done.
What about the Love Quest? Well, it has to be pursued. I have always been a working girl – not in that sense Rowley – and have constantly put career satisfaction at the top of my happiness shopping list. 2015 taught me that I was mistaken. At times last year I thought that I should resign myself to being a career witch who doesn’t need affection or love. But this is not true. Without love in one’s life, the rest is pointless.
So how are you spending New Year’s Eve my dear? I absolutely loathe New Year. I lost all appetite for it during the Millennium year when I was invited to a masked ball in Venice and had insufficient funds to pay for the flight or hotels. Gutted! So I spent it alone in Clapham toasting the fates on the phone with my friend Tessa. I will never forgive the fickle finger of fate for not allowing me to be in Venice as the year 2000 dawned.
Ever after, New Year’s Eve has meant nothing to me. I would like to spend it in bed with a lover but that won’t happen this year. Still, I have a date on the evening of New Year’s Day so let’s see what we shall see. Dating at my stage of life should feel undignified. Actually, it feels like a new lease of life. Until next year…